The Managerial Chain, Link-By-Link
As a baseball player, specifically a hitter, Ted Williams was the best I ever saw. As the manager of the Texas Rangers, he was as boring as salt. He was contemptuous of the media, a hangover from his playing days. And there was only one way to play the game – his way. He couldn’t hit the slider, so he demanded that all of his pitchers learn a slider. When that kind of approach didn’t work, he quit the game and became a deep-sea fisherman.
Whitey Herzog encapsulated his baseball wisdom inside a web of humor that was captivating. He made me laugh out loud. I wish he’d been able to hang around. Most of us old-timers envied his later success with the Royals and Cards.
Billy Martin was a monolith, sufficient unto himself. He created a world where it was all the rest of us against him and his players, which worked here for one season. Then it eroded into, all the world against him. He left here and took it to the Yankees – five times – and sometimes it worked. Most times it didn’t. He was not a happy guy.
Frank Lucchesi was out of his depth. He didn’t understand his players. He called a feisty young African-American infielder the urban equivalent of homosexual, and never recovered from the resultant beating, physically or mentally.
Billy Hunter was smart as hell, baseball-wise, and came from the Earl Weaver school. But his do-it-my-way approach did not work in the late 1970s with players who usually came to the ballpark stoned.
Doug Rader was, simply put, a disaster from the word go.
Bobby Valentine was the smartest baseball guy I ever met. In fact, he was so smart he couldn’t relate to people who didn’t see things as clearly as he did. He got into a shouting match with Randy Galloway, on the air, over who the team’s trainer worked for. His intractability eventually cost his job, and that of his general manager.
Kevin Kennedy was smart, too, but somehow couldn’t get his players to produce on the field. To be honest, he was kind of a nonentity while he was here.
Up until 2015, for my money, Johnny Oates was the best manager the Rangers ever had. He led the bat-heavy Rangers to their first division title, and then two more. When the owner saddled him with a $252-million shortstop who didn’t want to be here, and then said he didn’t have any money to fill out the rest of the roster, Oates resigned. He died of cancer not long after. The next year the team retired his jersey number, and he’s in the Rangers Hall of Fame.
Buck Showalter thinks he’s the smartest man in the baseball room, and a lot of the time he’s right. But he has often drawn questions about his handling of pitchers, and he is notoriously impatient with people who don’t agree with his thinking. His history is that he wears out his welcome with the players and the front office after three years, which is what happened in Texas.
Most of us are pretty familiar with Ron Washington’s excellent record. First managerial job, lasted seven years, two AL championships, a late-season collapse, a season plagued with a league record number of injury days, and then a resignation that left most people puzzled, confused, even skeptical.
Jeff Banister. Also in his first managerial job, he took over a team that experts condemned to a cellar finish – especially after losing its ace early in the season – and has led them to within a win of another AL Championship Series appearance. He has bonded with players, the front office and the fans. He has earned the respect of even the national media. And when I saw him (on TV) showing his human side by tenderly, even lovingly, helping a limping, tearful Adrian Beltre from the field in Game One against Toronto, my heart went out to both of them. I think the Rangers have a remarkable leader and a remarkable man. I hope they are able to hang on to him for a long, long time. He might be the best our team has ever had.